Iris van Herpen – An Interview with


On May 12, 2016 & posted in Editor's picks, Exclusive, Fashion, Interview, Print

Photography by Nicholas Ong

At the young age of 30, Iris Van Herpen has already established herself at the forefront of the fashion world. Through a combination of intensive research and experimentation, Iris Van Herpen has transformed the idea of fashion into something that is both unique and visionary, and crosses over from fashion into the realm of design and the arts.

She combines traditional couture techniques done by hand with the most advanced technologies, innovative material, and textures, like her Crystallization collection in 2010, which was a 3D printed dress design based on a splash of water on the wearer, and the different states, structures and patterns that water could create. This collection marked Van Herpen’s foray into the world of rapidly prototyping technology of 3D printing, allowing her to become the first to utilize this technology in fashion. Since then, Van Herpen has been fascinated by the endless potential of 3D printing, and further developed her 3D prints by adding exquisite and detailed handiwork.

© Iris van Herpen, Capriole, July 2011, Photo by Bart Oomes, No 6 Studios


Fashion for Iris Van Herpen is a mode of personal expression, whether it be a mood, a thought or a specific experience. These personal emotions and experiences stem from those surrounding her, and her earliest memories of fashion is of her grandmother, in which her attic collection has inspired Van Herpen to see the beauty of clothing through the various fabrics, textures, and craftsmanship.

Her family has also inspired her creatively through music and dance, and Iris Van Herpen plays the violin and studied classical ballet for many years. Thus, movement is usually a starting point for many of Iris Van Herpen’s designs, and that is why, though many of her designs look very sculptural, it is still firmly in the sphere of fashion. Her designs are all about the body, it’s transformation and relationship with the space around it. Iris Van Herpen certainly challenges the frames and borders of the fashion world, leading us into new and wondrous frontiers with each new collection.


Ryan Yoon: First of all, tell me how everything started. Was fashion always the passion of your life? Were you already exposed to the fashion world while growing up?

Iris Van Herpen: I grew up in a very very small village called Wamel (in the middle of the Netherlands). My parents, at the time, did not have television nor fashion magazines. So, I wasn’t so much aware of fashion when I was little.

My grandma collected special clothes and costumes and all imaginable accessories throughout her life, so when I was with her, I was dressing up in her enormous collection, which was a mix between historical and modern clothes. When I was a teenager, I went to school in a small city and I became aware of all the different identities and groups people like to place themselves in.

I started making my own clothes a bit and searched to find my own style. When I was very small, I wanted to become a dancer, but that slowly changed over the years in a passion to become a fashion designer. I enjoyed making my own clothes and I very much liked painting and working 3D. That is when I decided to go to the art academy when I was 17.

Photography by Nicholas Ong


RY: Did you feel, from early on, that you had an urge to create within you, and did your family encourage you to be creative and experimental?

IVH: My parents gave me a lot of freedom, my father and my brother inspired me to play the violin as they did. Also, I learned that for many years, and my mother inspired me to take dancing lessons as she did also; classical ballet that I studied for many years.

Dance is still a big inspiration for me when I design today. I learned so much about body control, transformation in time, three dimensionality, and my relationship with the space around me. Movement and the relationship with light are essentials to me when I design.

© Iris Van Herpen, Backstage detail, Spring/Summer 2015,“Magnetic Motion”, 2014


RY: I have seen from a previous interview that your grandmother had a big collection of costumes, shoes, and wigs. Can you tell us a little more about her sense of style and identity, and did that influence the way you view clothes and fashion?

IVH: My grandmother is 87 years old now and still intelligent and creative. She has a nice style where she mixes the old and the new. She likes vintage the most. Her attic collection has inspired me to see the beauty of clothes, materials, fabrics and craftsmanship from a young age.

© Iris Van Herpen, “Biopiracy”, 2014


RY: Where do you draw inspiration from? Do you draw from your own personal memories and experiences when you are looking for inspiration? Have you ever included any references to your childhood memories or family members?

IVH: Most of my inspirations come from artists, dancers, architects and scientists. Sometimes, I take inspiration from an experience or a memory, like for my capriole collection where I tried to visualize my feelings while jumping from a plane. The collection is based on only that one minute of falling down. It is quite abstract to visualize a feeling or a memory — and that is what I need while creating; visualizing the invisible.

© Iris Van Herpen, Backstage detail, Spring/Summer 2015,“Magnetic Motion”, 2014


RY: Do you think there are any central concepts or recurring ideas that you go back to in your design process?

IVH: Dance and movement are often a starting point when I work on a collection. Next to that material development, new techniques and craftsmanship are continuing throughout my whole process. Always.

Photography by Nicholas Ong


RY: In many ways, you are breaking the boundaries of traditional fashion concepts by exploring new ways to communicate with fashion world. How do you define the word, “fashion?”

IVH: Fashion, to me, is a personal expression of a mood, a thought and an identity. In my world, it is freedom, attraction, reformation and exploration. There are no borders and no frames. It does not stop with clothes nor materials, It is merging disciplines and creating a story of a new beauty.


RY: What are the differences for you in approaching the designs of Haute Couture and Ready to Wear? What are your views on the balance between commerciality and artistic merit?

IVH: With my couture designs, I create the freedom of spending a lot of time in research and development, including institutions like CERN or MIT. Couture is the place where I can collaborate with people I admire like Philip Beesley or Neri Oxman. RTW is the place where these techniques and materials that I have developed in my Couture world are translated to garments for daily wear. In my work, I feel that my couture and my RTW invigorate each other.

© Iris Van Herpen, Backstage detail, “Wilderness Embodied”, 2013


RY: What do you think of the current state of the fashion industry and system? Do you think it is in a position to sustain itself? And how do you view yourself within that system?

IVH: The system has huge points to better itself; environmentally and regarding humanity and animal rights. I am luckily in the position in my company where I have control so I can handle these issues the right way. I am happy for that. I don’t believe I can change a system, but at least on a small scale, I improve myself.

© Iris Van Herpen, Backstage detail, Spring/Summer 2015,“Magnetic Motion”, 2014


RY: You are one of the most forward thinking designers in the way you utilize science and technology in fashion design. Do you have any projections or fantasies of what the future of fashion may be like?

IVH: We moved to ‘globalizing clothes’ for quite some time now. People dress more and more the same in different continents and countries. But upcoming technology will give more power back to the consumer. People will be able to customise designs to something that fits exactly to their taste when new techniques will become mainstream. That will encourage people to create personal taste. I hope, in future, it becomes fashion to not follow fashion. It is time for that.

RY: Is there a personal sense of style that you adhere to when dressing yourself? Do you design clothes for yourself or for a certain kind of person?

IVH: When I design, I do not have an identity or a person in my mind, not a muse. The body and her movement are my muse. It is not about a certain identity in that stage. It is more free than that.

Photography by Nicholas Ong


RY: Do you think fashion has been the best medium to express yourself up until now, or have you considered moving into other areas of creation/design?

IVH: As I collaborate with other disciplines (art, science, dance, architecture) quite often, it makes my focus even stronger. It makes my design field and depth of research very rich and changeling. If my work would only contain designing clothes, I would definitely get spiritless after the years. But, the opposite is the case, as my exploration field within fashion’s space is growing each season.




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